IPM research seminar: atmospheres, canals, and the countryside  

On Thursday 22nd March 2018, we held the latest in our regular series of research seminars, which give our Members the opportunity to present their latest research and receive feedback from the diverse mix of academics, practitioners, and policy makers in attendance.

Chloe Steadman (Research Associate, IPM) and Gareth Roberts (Enterprise Fellow, IPM) drew on their research into the atmosphere at the Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City Football Club (MCFC). Marketing literature has typically conceptualised atmosphere as a controllable tool that can be manipulated for desired commercial effect – think ‘retail theatre’, piping in bread smells, controlling the temperature in changing rooms to encourage swift visits, that kind of thing. This research challenges the assumption that this top-down approach to managing the atmosphere of places can really work – and in no context is this more apparent than a football stadium. In short, through a comprehensive review of online fan forums and focus groups, the research found that the atmosphere inside the stadium is effected by multiple events and experiences that occur both inside and outside the stadium, and over an extended period of time. By presenting a day in the life of a MCFC fan, Chloe and Gareth illustrated how atmosphere manifests over time in different environments, culminating in the stadium. Theoretical and practical implications were then discussed. The latter, and those which have a relevance not only to officials at MCFC, but in principle to place managers in general; include improving public transport on match days, increasing the number of access points into the stadium, and making provisions for cheaper tickets and likeminded fans to be grouped together. All of these being interventions that can improve people’s overall experience of visiting that particular place, resulting in a better atmosphere – something which any place can benefit from.


Next, Gail Skelly (PhD Student, Manchester Met) discussed her ongoing doctoral research into light2 IPM Seminar Festivals. Focusing on people’s experiences of community light festivals and their socio-cultural impact, Gail’s findings so far include the importance of the events in terms of how they help to engender a sense of place identity, and how the co-produced nature of the events promotes a sense of inclusion. The presentation demonstrated the importance of communities of all ages coming together to organise and prepare for the festivals. The co-produced, inclusive nature of the events really imbues them, and of course the places they are held, with a sense of belonging and shared ownership, a pervading feeling that invariably has positive knock-on effects for these places in a wider context. Gail is now moving on to the next stage of her research, which will involve walking interviews, route mapping, and revisiting some of the case study sites.


In her presentation- The linear village: Waterway as a place-event- Maarja Kaaristo (Research Associate, Manchester Met) discussed her PhD research into canal boating, with a specific emphasis on the ‘boaters’- those using (and living in) the canals and waterways. Whilst she found that those within the canal boating community often perceive themselves as being inclusive, her research identified that the community is rather homogenous in terms of demographics (e.g. primarily older White British couples). Furthermore, despite this homogeneity, she discussed how there is a spatial-temporal hierarchy evident in the canal boating community, with, for example, the ‘continuous cruiser liveaboards’ holding more social/cultural capital than the ‘dayboaters’. This is interesting as it illustrates how even seemingly close-knit communities create their own divides. For place managers – whose focus is perhaps more oriented towards dry land environments! – this has implications when considering stakeholder engagement in place decision making. The challenge of integrating multiple voices – often with wide-ranging opinions – into a single strategy is difficult to say the least, not least when disparate voices exist within seemingly cohesive groups. Food for thought when developing engagement strategies.


Cathy Parker (Professor of Marketing, Manchester Met and IPM Chair) presented an update on the ongoing Vital and Viable Neighbourhood Centres Project, which is a collaborative endeavor with Manchester City Council to bring interested stakeholders in Manchester’s district centres together, within each neighbourhhood centre, to enhance vitality and viability. The focus of Cathy’s presentation was the ‘critical incidents’ identified in the project so far.  Critical incidents are times/situations when the research team feel that something has gone wrong! It is a useful method in place management projects, as, by its very nature, place management is complicated, involves many people and, therefore, is quite unpredictable. The critical incidents discussed identified some important learning from the project: the power of stakeholder politics (see Maarja’s research above for an example of the complexity here), the importance of the right timing for interventions, and how a ‘one-size-fits-all’ methodology is not always appropriate when studying diverse places.


In the fifth presentation- Pop-up Retailing in Urban Centres- Gary Warnaby (Professor of Marketing, Manchester Met) presented his research into pop-up retailing- typically a temporary retail format that is often used by start-up businesses to test initial brand-concepts, but that is also increasingly being used by established retailers to complement their mainstream business activities. Gary covered four key features of ‘pop-ups’. First, this retail form’s association with temporality was discussed regarding its usual short duration being conducive to stimulating purchases – i.e. its popularity is often predicated on the fact it won’t be there for long, as such people are inclined to visit and purchase before it’s too late. Second, the materiality of pop-up stores was outlined, particularly how they offer the opportunity for retailers/brands that would not normally have a physical presence to create one. So, for example, we see online companies such as Ebay ‘popping up’ in temporary physical store formats in order to encroach outside their normal brand territory – i.e. online to the high street. Third, Gary discussed associability and how a pop-up store can communicate a brand’s value. As pop-ups are far more flexible, generally less costly and as such possess a lower level of risk, it offers brands the opportunity to ‘cut-loose’ in an effort to connect with consumers, perhaps communicating their values in a less traditional or standard manner that may resonate more effectively with certain segments of consumer. Finally, the spatiality of pop-up retailing was explored concerning the differences between nomadic and static types, i.e. mobile, usually vehicle mounted units, and those that are semi-permanent/fixed. It is the latter that is perhaps of most interest to place managers. As pop-up becomes increasingly common there are opportunities for vacant retail property to be let on a short-term basis, as well as for previously non-commercial spaces to become places of commerce. Indeed, the example of Shoreditch’s Boxpark was raised, which has transformed previously non-commercial space into a destination in its own right – clearly the potential for transforming places through pop-up is there. However, the presentation ended on a note of caution, questioning whether pop-up retailing is really a solution for the rising need for flexible retailing or whether it is simply papering over the cracks in the existing retailing system.

Last but not least, Rosemary Shirley (Senior Lecturer in Art History, Manchester Met) presented on her ongoing work into everyday life, mundanity, and visual culture within a rural context. 5IPM SeminarRosemary’s presentation considered how artists can engage with landscape as a place that is lived, rather than just looked at and visited. This has significance for place management as it emphasises the importance of acknowledging that all places are multi-faceted in terms of their meaning to people. Often portrayed as twee and idyllic, the research serves to remind us that the countryside is also a real, lived-in environment, with the same inherent complexities and problems as urban areas.   To emphasise the often-held simplified, stereotypical view, Rosemary discussed the way that the countryside has been appropriated by corporations to sell their products. Rosemary showed examples of air fresheners based on the national parks, and large supermarket sub-brands which take the name of non-existent farms, giving the false impression of being locally produced on a small-scale – the reality being quite different. These are clear examples of the place fakery and exploitation that perpetuates throughout our culture and contributes to unrealistic perceptions. Rosemary is challenging this, seeking to encourage a more holistic view of the countryside that better reflects the everyday, lived experiences of people that live there.


With that, another thought provoking and wide-ranging seminar was brought to a close. What is perhaps particularly interesting about these events is whilst the subject matter is often disparate, the issues and themes presented often overlap. As such these seminars really provide something for everyone, as well as showing that place issues and implications permeate many aspects of our everyday lives. As one attendee was heard to comment in the final exchanges, “everything is place!”


The next IPM research seminar will take place on May 24th 2018. We’d encourage all Members to attend, we are sure there will be something of interest to you!